Irish nationalist and Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams says the dissident groups behind three recent sectarian killings in Northern Ireland have "no popular support" and are doomed to fail in their efforts to destabilize the province's peace process.
“If anybody’s concerned this is the start of the Troubles again, that we’re going to step back into war again, that will not happen,” Mr. Adams told a crowd at Harvard University Wednesday night in Cambridge, adding, “There’s a certainty of hope.”
Adams last spoke at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government in 1994 – the same year his party, which serves as the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, had agreed that year to cease using violence in their efforts to end British rule.
Many doubted then that the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland would ever end. "Well, it has worked,” Adams said.
That's not to say all is well, as evidenced by three sectarian murders in recent weeks – not to mention the police officers that stood guard as Adams spoke, and the plain-clothes guard who eyed the crowd and occasionally peered behind curtains behind the podium.
As the Monitor reported earlier this week (read the story here), threats against the peace process have spiked in recent months, especially as reforms have been made to the province's police force. One of the efforts has been to hire more Roman Catholics into the force, which has traditionally employed disproportionately high numbers of Protestants.
One of the men murdered recently was a Catholic police officer. Two British soldiers were also killed. Dissident Irish Republican groups have claimed responsibility for the deaths. Many leaders in the province now fear retaliatory attacks by British loyalist groups.
Martin McGuinness, a Sinn Féin leader serving as Northern Ireland's deputy first minister, called the perpetrators "traitors to the island of Ireland." Although Adams has denounced the killings, some commentators have pointed out that his condemnations have not been as strong. Adams was asked Wednesday if he thought the killers were traitors.
His response: “I agree with Martin.”
Adams's speech was full of similar diplomatic responses to sticky questions. He repeatedly condemned the use of violence, for instance: “Any problems created by human beings can be solved by human beings.... There’s never, ever a military solution.”
But, an audience member asked later, what about the IRA’s history of taking up arms against the British and of murdering suspected collaborators?
"There was no alternative,” he replied. “Those days are gone.... In every war, the innocent die. The way to prevent that is to ensure that there is no war.”
Adams was visiting the US during "St. Patrick's Week," which included stops at the White House to meet with President Barack Obama, as well as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Mideast peace envoy George Mitchell, who helped bring about the 1998 Good Friday Peace Accord in Northern Ireland.
US involvement in Northern Ireland, Adams said, has been "the most successful US foreign policy issue you’ve had in the last 30 years.”
Adams refused a request to offer advice to other armed militant groups, such as Hezbollah, on ways of gaining more international legitimacy. “In this modern age, there are very few liberation struggles, if any, that will be won by guns,” Adams said.
Despite his focus on reconciliation and peace, Adams said he is steadfast in his desire for a united Ireland. On this issue, his language was clear: “The British government has no right, no right whatsoever to be in my country."